How the zebra got its stripes - scientists reveal all
Friday, December 27, 2013 - 01:34
Dec. 27 - A new study into motion imaging could explain the evolutionary significance of a zebra's stripes. According to scientists in the UK, the stripes have evolved to confuse predators and disease-carrying insects by creating optical illusions. Joel Flynn reports.
▲ Hide Transcript
▶ View Transcript
==RESENDING WITH UPDATED INTRO==
It's an evolutionary quirk that people have been trying to explain since 1870...why the zebra got its stripes.
But now, one researcher believes he has the answer.
Johannes Zanker, a computational neuroscientist at Royal Holloway University, says it's all in the movement.
SOUNDBITE (English) JOHANNESS ZANKER, COMPUTATIONAL NEUROSCIENTIST, ROYAL HOLLOWAY UNIVERSITY, SAYING,
"So basically in what the brain sees when a person or an animal looks at zebras, there are very peculiar motion illusions generated in the brain. Their stripe patterns confuse the visual system of a potential predator, or, let's say, equally, of insects, which are not just a nuisance to these animals, but also could be carrying diseases."
Zanker's motion illusion is also seen in barber shop poles and wagon wheels.
The illusion makes the movement of the objects appear different to their movement in reality.
Zanker says the findings could have wider significance - especially for road safety.
He argues that if zebra crossing lines were painted horizontally to approaching cars, drivers would be more inclined to notice them earlier.
SOUNDBITE (English) JOHANNESS ZANKER, COMPUTATIONAL NEUROSCIENTIST, ROYAL HOLLOWAY UNIVERSITY, SAYING:
"To increase the impression of speed, so if you want to reduce it you paint it in this way."
Where the research goes next remains to be seen, but Zanker says he's certain the zebra's stripes could be far more useful than nature ever intended.
Press CTRL+C (Windows), CMD+C (Mac), or long-press the URL below on your mobile device to copy the code